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Student Union Organizers Gear Up for Potential Re-Vote

By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Phelan Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

Days after a National Labor Relations Board official ruled that Harvard improperly conducted a November student unionization election, union organizers are again gearing up to convince eligible students to form a union ahead of a possible re-vote.

Last week, NLRB hearing officer Thomas A. Miller wrote in a recommendation that Harvard did not conduct a fair election in November and failed to provide accurate lists of students eligible to vote in the election. Miller also recommended that 195 remaining challenged ballots from the election be opened and counted—at least 186 of these ballots would need to support unionization for the union to win. Unless the final results favor the union, Miller wrote that a re-vote should be conducted.

Miller’s recommendation is not binding, and NLRB Regional Director John J. Walsh, Jr. will review it prior to a final decision. Either party could appeal Miller’s recommendation.

But even before the NLRB has finalized its decision, student union organizers at Harvard are preparing to launch another unionization campaign. A December vote count—which remains too close due to the unresolved challenge ballots—showed more graduate students voting against unionization than for it, albeit by a narrow margin.

Union organizer Gabe Schwartz said his role in preparing for the re-vote is to help people “decide what’s better for them.” To do this, he and other union organizers are speaking with students about what they want to see improved in graduate school.

“If they can see what they want improved, it’s easier for them to visualize how a union might help them,” he said.

Schwartz said Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers is also trying to garner support with STEM students. Schwartz said “on average” it is “probably true” that more humanities than STEM students supported unionization in the November election.

These organizing efforts come after a unionization election that has lasted months. Several delays slowed counting the ballots from the November election, when graduate student teaching fellows and research assistants and undergraduate teaching fellows cast their ballots. And objections filed days after the December vote count further complicated the process.

In February, the NLRB began hearings to consider both the objections and the validity of some of the contested ballots from the election. Miller, who presided over the hearing, wrote his recommendation based on arguments presented by each party.

The day the NLRB released the recommendation, Harvard's Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an email that he disagreed with the recommendation. Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean for Student Affairs Garth O. McCavana forwarded Curran’s email to GSAS students.

“The University believes strongly that the votes and voices of students should be respected and that the election results should stand,” Curran wrote. “We believe that a new election, as these findings provisionally recommend, ignores the majority of students who voted against unionization and is unwarranted by the facts.”

Both sides could appeal Miller’s recommendation to Region 1 of the NLRB—the region overseeing Harvard’s case—and then possibly to the full NLRB in Washington.

In his email, Curran wrote Harvard “will thoroughly review the hearing officer’s report to determine appropriate next steps.”

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

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